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Open Squash

Apr 10th 2024

Talk Like an Egyptian

Amr Khalifa Featured Image

Amr Khalifa Focuses on the “Mindset Shift” In U.S. Junior Squash

Amr Khalifa is Director of Squash at Open Squash’s FiDi location. Born in Egypt, he won the World Junior Championship in 2010, and, the U.S. college national individual championship in 2014.

As squash director for the Maadi Club in Cairo, Amr coached elite juniors and PSA players such as Omar Mosaad (former PSA #3), Youssef Soliman (PSA #11) and Melissa Alves (PSA # 19).

His subsequent years of living, playing, and studying in the US give him the ability to translate the best of the Egyptian game to squash in the US, and we’re incredibly excited to have him bring his talents and expertise to our junior programs, primarily at FiDi but also at our other locations.

We sat down with Amr recently on the rooftop at Open Squash.

“I started playing squash when I was six years old,” he said. “It’s a very popular sport in Egypt, and my father played, and he had some amazing flicks and unbelievable shots. You see a lot of kids playing the game in Egypt at five or six, and you make very good friends that way. It’s not just squash but you play soccer, you swim together, eat dinner together, it’s an amazing community, and that’s why I wanted to go to the classes.”

Amr started swimming more seriously, but eventually realized that he was pursuing the wrong sport. He wanted to play squash. A natural athlete, he made the switch at 11, after winning the national championship for squash and swimming on the same day.

“I realized that I was good at both but that I enjoyed squash more, and I didn’t have the energy to do both sports at that level, so I focused on squash,” he said.

From 12 onwards, Amr was playing tournaments regularly through the Squash Federation, and gradually he made his way up the rankings until he was the world’s highest rated junior player. He did play on the Professional Squash Association Tour for a year, reaching a ranking of #50, but eventually decided to move to the U.S. to go to college, when he injured his back. Amr went to Saint Lawrence College in Upstate New York to train under coach Chris Upland and enjoyed building up the squash program there. It was a big culture shock compared to Cairo, not least because of the cold weather in the winters, and being in a rural setting.

“The weather is brutal, especially in wintertime,” he said. “I was introduced to all the big jackets, all the big boots. But it was super easy to adjust because of all the good friends I made there, to adjust to a new life in America.”

Amr also pursued a career on Wall Street in the banking industry after college. He enjoyed learning a new trade and exploring the industry, but ultimately decided he wanted to go back to squash.

“My boss at the time asked me if I was sure I wanted to leave,” he said. “And I said ultimately, I did want to return to squash because I didn’t feel that I was being myself. I think I made the right decision.”

Amr found meaning in working with Egyptian players as a coach that he’d missed on Wall Street. He found that he could be himself and really enjoyed it for three years. Then he heard about Open Squash in New York, one of his favorite cities in the world, and was drawn back here by the mission and the atmosphere at the club.

“We’re aiming to build a world class junior program,” he said. “Getting good players and people who want to come and compete across age groups.”

How is Egyptian squash different from squash in the U.S.?

“In Egypt, we, we used to train to be the world number one, to be the best player in the world,” he said. “That's the goal from when I was six years old. I see the world number one (Amr Shabana, at the time) training on the court next to me. It was inspirational. And they will play with me, they’ll get on court with me. If you get on court with Shabana and he says you’re a good player, it inspires you.”

“The mindset in the U.S., I think, was more about college, more about the universities, at the time,” he said. “I think this is changing now because what's happening in the U.S. and colleges, is that you can get into an Ivy League college and become and become the world number one like Ali Farag. So now the Egyptian kids are thinking that to get to the World Number One spot, they need to go to a top university in the U.S., and the mindset has changed.”

The gap between Egyptian players and the U.S. juniors is closing, Amr thinks. Ten years ago, there was a huge gap, but it’s narrowing, now.

“And I think U.S. juniors are looking at the game now and are thinking ‘maybe I could get to number one’,” he said.

Egypt tends to run more individualized training sessions compared to the U.S., Amr said, which is something he is trying to incorporate into the junior program at Open Squash, to build a winning mindset for juniors.

Still, the intensity of Egyptian junior training tends to take a toll on juniors, and an increased understanding of physical science is improving things there. Amr learned from his own injury that it’s important to take rest and recovery as a junior, and to train with proper fitness technique. It’s something he is intent on incorporating into his training with juniors in America.

“I’d like to see more people signing up with open squash and for our junior programs,” he said. “This is an amazing, incredible facility, and you can’t see anything like it. It’s super friendly and I can’t wait to see more people playing down here.”

Thanks for sharing your perspective with us, Amr!

You can also watch a video version of this interview at our new Boast About It show here!